Hey, can’t an NFL team get a little peace and quiet in which to work? If you’re the Jacksonville Jaguars, the answer is....yes. Coming off a 5-11 season, the Jaguars are desperately trying to rekindle interest from what may be the most apathetic fan base in the NFL.
Jacksonville drew fewer than 40,000 fans to its final preseason game this year and - after two preseason blackouts - there’s real concern that the Jags won’t sell out a single game this year. The Jaguars have to come up with something to change the vibe and direction of their franchise.
They’re trying. New GM Gene Smith filled up the dumpster during the offseason with players deemed either too old or not useful. That meant a full overhaul of the wide receiver position as Dennis Northcutt, Matt Jones, Jerry Porter and Reggie Williams all got tossed. It also resulted in Fred Taylor, a franchise icon, being released.
The Taylor release means the running back duties fall to tough little Maurice Jones-Drew. Can he withstand a 300-plus carry, 60-catch season? The wide receiver housecleaning led to the Jags signing Torry Holt. He’s 33 and better suited to becoming someone’s No. 2 or No. 3 receiver at this point, not their No. 1.
The Jaguars put an effort into rebuilding their offensive line this offseason. The first-round selection of Eugene Monroe, a left tackle, and second-round right tackle Eben Britton are evidence of that. You have to give them credit for that. Still, when it comes to offensive firepower, the group led by quarterback David Garrard is among the least impressive in the league.
Defensively, Del Rio’s been trying to restore the toughness that this team used to show every season. He challenged veteran defensive tackle John Henderson when Henderson nursed (in Del Rio’s mind) an injury. And he ran a far more physical camp than he has in the past.
Derrick Harvey, a defensive end entering his second season, and Reggie Hayward could help the Jags inept pass rush of a season ago. Linebacker Justin Durant and corner Rashean Mathis are the other talented players on a Jags defense that will likely have to be very stingy in order to keep Jacksonville in some games.
Del Rio’s won just one playoff game in his time with the Jags. If Jacksonville doesn’t show signs of improvement after all the players it let go after 2008, they could well be saying so long to their coach after 2009.
Key player: Jones-Drew. Even though he’s short, Jones-Drew is so powerfully built it’s unfair to consider him more injury prone because of his size. But his pinballing style and refusal to go down do put him at greater risk for getting hurt. And if he does, the Jags are screwed.
Rookie to watch: Monroe. He’s going to be starting at left tackle right out of the chutes and in a division with Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch running around you have a tough chore keeping your quarterback clean.
Best veteran acquisition: Holt. Yeah, he’s old. But, after catching just 64 last year for the horrific Rams, he caught 93 each in 2007 and 2006. At least he’s professional which is more than can be said for many of the Jags former receivers.
Key game: Week 4, vs. Tennessee. They open at Indy, hosting the defending NFC champion Cardinals and at Houston. Three tough games. If they’re sliding by Week 4, a home loss to Tennessee will make things ugly. If they’re doing pretty well, a win would be a real boost.